Pope Urban III

Pope Urban III was the 172nd person to hold the position and the third to adopt the “Urban” name. During his short tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church, Urban III was in a constant battle with the Holy Roman Emperor.

Background and Education

Urban III was born in Cuggiono, which is a small commune in Milan, Italy. He was born with the name Urberto Crivelli and was part of a relatively noble family in the region. His family was quite large and played an important role in the Church’s history well after Urberto’s death. After his childhood, Urberto studied in Bologna.

History with the Church

Like many future popes before him, Urberto Crivelli climbed the ranks of the Church. After decades of loyally serving the Church, he was made a cardinal in 1182. This was done by Pope Lucius III. Just a few years later in 1185, he became Archbishop of Milan.

This same year, Pope Lucius III died, calling for a vote for the new Pope. The unique thing about this election is that it was done very quickly. Archbishop Urberto Crivelli was elected the new pope the same day that his predecessor died. Crivelli adopted the name Urban III. Many scholars believe that the quick election of Urban III was done out of fear of interference from the Holy Roman Emperor, which Lucious III had a feud with.


Immediately after being elected pope, Urban III challenged the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbossa. Not only did he inherit issues from his predecessor, but he harbored some feelings that were a bit more personal. Many of Urban III’s family members were condemned and harmed during a sack of Milan a couple of decades earlier. Needless to say, this didn’t bode well for the papacy.

To make matters worse, the heiress of Sicily was to be married to the Emperor’s son Henry. This created significant risks in terms of independence for the Papal States. With the marriage, the Church lost support. Urban III refused to crown Henry after the marriage, which resulted in the Emperor to call on other Church members to do so. In retaliation, Urban III excommunicated any patriarch or bishop who took part in the wedding or crowning.

Due to the tensions in the Roman Empire, Pope Urban III fled to Verona. However, Emperor Frederick Barbossa cut off all communications between Verona and the Church’s German following. As a result, Urban III attempted to excommunicate the Emperor from the Church. But, the Veronese blocked this action from taking place. In a last-ditch effort to successfully excommunicate the Emperor, the pope sought to complete his actions in Venice. He first fled to Ferrara. Before he could make it to Venice where he could carry out the threat against Emperor Frederick, he died.

Quick Facts About Urban III

  • Pope Urban III was born in the year 1120 in a small commune in Milan.
  • He was given the birth name of Uberto Crivelli.
  • Pope Urban III died on October 20, 1187, after serving less than two years as the pope.
  • There are a couple of different versions of his death. According to Benedict of Peterborough, he died of shock after learning about the Crusader’s defeat and the fall of Jerusalem. However, other reports say that he died of dysentery after his travels to Ferrara.
  • Pope Urban III was elected on November 25, 1185.
  • His papacy ended upon his death on October 20, 1187.
  • He was succeeded by Pope Gregory VIII

Fascinating Facts About Urban III

  • Some scholars believe that he chose to take the name “Urban” to honor Pope Urban II, as he went into the papacy with a preexisting grudge against Emperor Frederick Barbossa. Given Urban II’s legacy for starting the First Crusade, it’s thought that the choice reflected his willingness to challenge the Emperor.
  • Pope Urban III was the uncle to future Pope Celestine IV.
  • His tomb is located at Ferrara Cathedral.
  • He convinced European Kings to continue the Crusades in the Holy Land.
  • He continued to serve as Archbishop of Milan even during his papacy.